Teacher Evaluations

Most schools have simple, ineffective systems of teacher evaluation that do not provide much useful information for teachers seeking to improve their skills or administrators needing to make crucial judgments about their personnel.  A better system of evaluation would include the assessment of student achievement and the involvement of faculty and parents.  Assessment tests in specific subject areas can be administered at the beginning, middle, and end of the scholastic year.  While the majority of the questions should be suited to the grade level of the students, there should also be questions targeting previous and subsequent topics, especially at the start of the school year.  In doing so, hopefully the tests will determine the students who lack a solid foundation or those are precociously ahead prior to the involvement of a new teacher.  As far as the student is concerned, the results are not important.  For teachers, the tests would be useful to quantify the progress that students are making.  If teachers find that their students are making subpar progress, they can consult with other education professionals on different approaches to teaching the material.

These figures could also help the school administration make evaluations.  However, value-added evaluations have not been shown to illuminate much of value with regard to teacher effectiveness.  Simply put, many research institutions, the RAND Corporation and the Economic Policy Institute for example, have come to the conclusion that we cannot as of yet disentangle the myriad of outside factors from the teaching component in our data analyses.  That is why their use in evaluations should be kept minimal: perhaps to be used only in situations where an educator is on the cusp of being fired.  We should not give up on them though.  In time and with better data and research methods, we will be able to cull some relatively decent indicators of teaching skills.  If these exams are developed with the input of teachers, it would also help to broaden the skill set which is screened for, and they might better reflect the incremental growth expected in a scholastic year.  In addition, good value-added evaluations not only need better tests and more student performance data, but they would also benefit from more demographic information.  School administrations can help in this regard by asking for and stressing the importance of voluntarily disclosing more personal information during registration.

Students should also be able to express their views on teacher effectiveness.  With the help of the teachers, survey questions regarding specific classroom practices can be constructed and distributed along with scaled ratings on aspects of teaching.  Of course, these evaluation forms should be kept anonymous.  Information that is pertinent to classroom practices and management can be shared with teachers.  With a similar survey tool, parents should also be given the opportunity to anonymously express their views on the quality of education and the effectiveness of the support that their children are receiving.

The opinions of other teachers and administrators are also valuable.  Although they usually do not have a complete picture of other classroom cultures and practices, they can still apply their experience to make insightful assessments.  The use of video footage can help them in this regard.  I think it would be very useful to randomly capture lessons on video.  These can then be used to allow other educators to give constructive criticism.  They can also serve the school administration as another source on which to base evaluations.  While some of the evaluation techniques just described do not apply to classrooms with very young children or to subjects, such as art, where progress is hard to quantify, I think it is important to include as many of the interested parties as possible.

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Posted in Education Reform

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